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  • Writer's pictureIndy Goodwin

The Future Isn't Female - Indy Plays >Observer_

Updated: Nov 20, 2019

I wanted to like >observer_.  Really I did.  I loved Layers of Fear, also by Bloober team, its twists and turns keeping me occupied for hours.  I was excited about this game for months, cursing my low funds for keeping it from me.  What I got was immeasurably disappointing.

You play as Daniel Lazarski, a member of the Krakow Police Department and the titular observer.  Observers can hack into neural implants and experience memories first hand. You receive a strange phone call from your estranged son and immediately rush to the slum district of the city to help him.  You find a body without a head in his apartment and it all just gets stranger from here.  You comb the apartment building floor by floor meeting all kinds of awful people, more victims and a man so obsessed with werewolves that he became one, thanks to body modifications that gave him stronger legs, sharp teeth and claws.  You find out that Adam no longer resides in the physical realm, having uploaded his consciousness to the internet and needs Lazarski’s help to escape before a virus consumes him.  

Doesn’t sound so bad, right?  Hoo boy.  Where to start?  First of all, this game is so violent to women.  You do not meet a single woman who is not a victim of violence.  Even the way women are spoken about is far from feminist.  Helena Nowak is described as a ‘fucking tease’ for having the audacity to bend down to put her washing in a washing machine.   Lazarski can choose to reprimand the man for this comment, but not in any meaningful way.  You can also choose not to address it, which shouldn’t have even been an option.  I get that this is a dystopia but could we not have spread the violence out a little?  

You meet one woman who isn’t dead or incapacitated to the point of brain death.  That woman is an unnamed prostitute who is treated very unkindly by Lazarski, shamed for her profession.  You do not see her face, hidden behind her locked apartment door.  In comparison, there are 3 named male characters you can physically see in the world - Janus, Lazarski and (technically) Adam.  There are also many more male characters you can talk with during questioning with the neighbours.  Women have basically been wiped off the map in post apocalyptic Krakow.

The main thread that runs through the story is about how guilty Lazarski feels for letting his wife die because he persuaded her not to get lifesaving cybernetic implants and the anger Adam feels towards his father because of it.  Their relationship is all very stereotypical male bluster, neither one talking about their complicated emotions, instead slinging blame at each other for the miserable state they are both in.  Adam uses that guilt to get his father to agree to host his digital form - his ghost, if you will. 

As much as this should have been a point where I could have empathised with the characters, the way they were written was more annoying than anything.  Neither man was willing to back down.   Neither man acted with any sort of clear affection for the other.  Adam was portrayed as the pinnacle of morality and an example of everything his father had done wrong, I assume to convey some sort of message about your choices having consequences, but in reality Adam was an utter cockwomble.  Completely irredemable, using his past grief to infect his present with a hateful attitude.  Grief is a reason to be unreasonable but not an excuse.

Really, I just wish that Bloober team had stepped away from the traditional toxic masculinity and dominance rituals that can shape father/son relationships and paved the way for some form of forgiveness.  Some sort of understanding, instead of Lazarski being manipulated or forced into smuggling his son’s ghost out in his own neural unit.  I guess looking at the way the rest of the game was written though that was too much to ask.

Just, goddamn Bloober team.  Are you okay?  Cos it sounds like you might be suffering a little bit.  Male relationships shouldn’t be this way.  It is entirely possible for fathers and sons to have healthy, loving relationships.  Granted it’s not something we see a lot, but they are out there.  Observer was fascinating premise but ruined by toxic masculinity.  I don’t know why I’m surprised.

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